Saturday, July 25, 2009

Charles Taylor's testimony: "Me? I had nothing to do with Sierra Leone!"

If you haven't been following former Liberian President Charles Taylor's defense testimony, you're missing out on some really good (by that I mean anywhere from outright false to merely outlandish) stories. Over the last couple of weeks, Charles Taylor has been testifying in his own defense in the Hague, where he is being tried by the Special Court for Sierra Leone on 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other violations of international humanitarian law.

To start off, the Special Court normally sits in Freetown, in Sierra Leone but has moved to the Hague for Taylor's trial because of concerns over security and of the impact having the trial in Sierra Leone itself could have on peace in the wider region. This is important because it's obviously a bit harder to keep both Sierra Leoneans and Liberians properly informed about far-flung proceedings than it would have been if the trial had occurred in Freetown. It also says a lot about how fragile peace is in both countries if the Liberian authorities in particular were worried that having Taylor in Sierra Leone might lead to increased security threats from his remaining supporters in Liberia.

But to get back to the trial, I've been reading the news stories coming out of the Hague. has great country by country RSS feeds so I set one up for Liberia. Much of the reporting has come from an Open Society Institute-funded NGO that sent a Sierra Leonean attorney to monitor the proceedings.

With that (undoubtedly insufficient) introduction, I'll move to the Taylor's accounts of events.

One report explained that Taylor claims to anyone who looks will find no evidence that any of his (largely frozen) bank accounts hold any illicit funds or funds obtained from the illegal sale of diamonds. Another tells us that Taylor was too busy with events in Liberia in the early 1990s to have anything to do with events in Sierra Leone.

To be more specific:

Mr. Taylor said that when rebels attacked Sierra Leone in March 1991, he was busy holding discussions with West African leaders in Senegal geared towards the cessation of hostilities in Liberia and therefore could not have been planning an attack on Sierra Leone.

"At the time of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) invasion of Sierra Leone, I was busy with peace meetings but the prosecution has me busy planning and supporting the RUF in Sierra Leone," Taylor told the judges.

To echo a point one of my colleagues made on this I wonder if I could see his appointment calendar, his phone log, and the travel schedule of his close associates because I'm pretty sure it would be embarrassing for Mr. Taylor.

The same article reports that Taylor claims he had too much going on throughout the 1990s to provide ongoing support to the RUF. Of course, Taylor also says that his 1997 "election" to the Liberian presidency was free and fair (despite the fact that monitors said the election had been marred by "widespread pre-poll intidimidation" of the "if you don't vote for me, I will resume war and you and your family will die" variety).

The third week of Taylor's testimony starts next week and if the reports coming out the last two weeks are any indication, it's worth keeping an eye on because you'll learn a lot about how the Liberian conflict supposedly did or didn't happen and how much Taylor had to do with it. I think the coverage has been pretty good at outlining both the prosecution's case and Taylor's responses. The only thing I haven't yet found is good coverage of reactions to the proceedings but if reactions to to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report are any indication,that would provide interesting insight into how populations view these types of efforts.


  1. "To echo a point one of my colleagues made on this I wonder if I could see his appointment calendar, his phone log, and the travel schedule of his close associates because I'm pretty sure it would be embarrassing for Mr. Taylor."

    Lil, your colleague greatly overestimates the competence and efficiency of Robert Taylor's ganja smoking, AK-toting clerical staff.


  2. There once was a warlord named "Taylor,"
    Bedeviled by The Hague's mettlesome jailor.
    "I'm innocent, you see?
    "Sierre Leone doesn't even know me!
    "Those diamonds? The spoils of war."


  3. SNLII: I'm pretty sure my colleague was joking. My first thought was "Taylor had clerical staff of any kind? Wow!" And I'm not clever enough to respond in verse. Nice one though. Though I guess if I worked on it, I could do one with timber, plunder, rubber, and Taylor.

  4. He emerged from the jungle quite grand,
    Generalissimo Taylor leading his band:
    They stole rutile, diamonds and wood,
    Every carat and ounce for the common good,
    Except for the Mende who lost his hand.


  5. There once was a bastard named Sankoh,
    A tinpot, rain forest-born Franco.
    With Sam Bockarie by his side,
    And Charles Taylor along for the ride,
    Puppets for Libya and Burkina Faso.

  6. I've got to say, the "tinpot, rain forest-born Franco" is REALLY good.